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The use of fingernails as a means of assessing bone health: a pilot study

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Diana Lyons, Dr Matthew GermanORCiD


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BACKGROUND: Anecdotally, patients volunteer reports of increasing hardness of their fingernails within months of starting diverse treatments for osteoporosis. The properties of both nail and bone may be linked in a comparable, measurable way. METHODS: We examined the fingernails of two groups of patients, with (n = 9) and without (n = 13) osteoporosis at either the hip or lumbosacral spine. We performed nanoindentation to assess the degree of nail brittleness and Raman spectroscopy to assess the disulfide bond content of nail. RESULTS: The mean moduli of fingernails of patients with low bone mineral density (BMD) are lower than those of patients with normal BMD. The mean difference in mean modulus between the groups was found to be 0.996 (p = 0.15 between groups). The spectroscopy data also showed differences between the two sets of nails. The disulfide bond content of the nails sourced from osteoporotic patients was lower than that from healthy patients (p = 0.06 between groups). CONCLUSIONS: Bone collagen and nail keratin are two distinct structural proteins, and both require protein sulfation and disulfide bond formation, via cysteine, for structural integrity. A disorder of either process may lead to disordered collagen and keratin synthesis. This is reflected in the structural abnormalities seen in clinical syndromes in which there is either protein deficiency, disorders of sulfur metabolism, or cystathione beta-synthase deficiency. The relationship between nail and bone may exist in a measurable way. This pilot study should lead to further work to explore this relationship. Could nail prove to be a valuable adjunct to diagnosis or provide a means of more rapid follow-up after commencement of therapy?

Publication metadata

Author(s): Pillay I, Lyons D, German MJ, Lawson NS, Pollock HM, Saunders J, Chowdhury S, Moran P, Towler MR

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Journal of Women's Health

Year: 2005

Volume: 14

Issue: 4

Pages: 339-344

ISSN (print): 1540-9996

ISSN (electronic): 1931-843X

Publisher: Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. Publishers


DOI: 10.1089/jwh.2005.14.339

PubMed id: 15916508

Notes: Journal Article


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